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The Surprising Appeal Of Living Alone

Posted: 02/ 3/2012 1:03 pm

More people live alone than at any point in human history. But why?

Today, a surprisingly high number of people are choosing to go solo because it facilitates the pursuit of good things that are otherwise hard to come by: Control of one's own time and space. Freedom to do what one wants, when one wants to do it. Privacy. Anonymity. Autonomy. And, paradoxically, the chance to reconnect with others.

Living alone was once most prevalent in rural areas that attracted migrant workers. Today it's largely an urban phenomenon, because cities make living alone a profoundly social experience.

Although many people assume that living alone is an American phenomenon (well, at least I once did), by international standards the United States is a laggard. Going solo is most common in Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian countries that have a robust market and strong welfare states. In recent years it has grown most quickly in countries with booming economies: China, India, and Brazil.

I've been studying the rise of solo living for nearly a decade. With the help of a small research team, I interviewed more than 300 people who live alone and analyzed the emerging literature on the social lives of singles. My book, "Going Solo," [Penguin Press, $27.95] recounts what I learned, and offers the first comprehensive assessment of this incredible social change.

Here are some of the ways that people I interviewed explain the benefits of living alone.

Living alone is a rite of passage
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In recent decades a growing number of twenty- and thirty-somethings have come to view living alone as a key part of the transition to adulthood. In the large urban areas where it is most common, many young professionals see having one's own home as a mark of success and distinction. It's a way to discover themselves and establish personal security.
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